Street Art Cape Town

Differences need to be celebrated rather than muted

Understanding and engaging with the different rationalities of participants in co-production processes is essential for different actors to work together to co-produce and operationalise knowledge for cities that are more just and sustainable.

A newly published paper by Mistra Urban Futures reflects on a major challenge of co-production of knowledge processes. It is not only about the competing interests and agendas of participants and stakeholders in such processes; there are also often deeper underlying conflicting rationalities about many of the key concepts and issues. These may be driven by ideological, educational, contextual and personal factors. To make cities more just, equitable and sustainable, it is necessary to facilitate the understanding of these differences and to identify the common ground where interests overlap and there is space for sharing ideas.

As an example, the article refers to the work in Cape Town where a group of different stakeholders were to undertake collaborative research on the problem of the flooding of informal settlements in Cape Town. Turned out that officials of different city departments had very different understandings of the nature of the problem and the solutions:

“… the officials of the Disaster Risk Management Centre, who came from a disaster-risk science background, largely viewed the city in terms of hazards and risks posed to residents and, in practice, their focus was on disaster-risk relief. Roads and Stormwater officials had a civil engineering background, and saw the problem of flooding as essentially too much water being in certain places, requiring stormwater drainage solutions. Informal Settlements Management officials, who were mostly housing practitioners, saw flooding of informal settlements in Cape Town as mainly a problem of people occupying low-lying, poorly drained areas that are not (in their present state) suitable for residential use, and thus saw the solution as relocation or upgrading. Residents of informal settlements, in turn, had different perspectives about flooding, mainly focusing on its immediate impacts on livelihoods and health, and ways of mitigating its negative impacts at the household and neighbourhood scales.”

Mistra Urban Futures explored these differences and found them sometimes even more polarised between different cities and countries, including deep divisions regarding the fundamental nature of the problem, the ultimate goals and objectives of urban development interventions, and the key underlying concepts.

The experiences of Mistra Urban Futures highlight the existence of different rationalities in co-production processes as both a challenge and an opportunity. The identification of novel approaches to so called wicked problems is contingent on difference being highlighted. This makes common positions evident and creates spaces for the realisation of new perspectives, possibilities and axioms. Importantly, difference needs to be celebrated rather than censored or muted. We argue that doing this at the outset assists in avoiding lengthy and often con-flictual processes later on. Without such processes, ‘agreement’ is often curated, generally representing a false consensus.    

The paper was published in the Trialog journal (Trialog 137 Vol 2/2019, March 2021). It is available for download from Mistra Urban Futures.  

Smit, W., Simon, D., Durakovic, E., Dymitrow, M., Haysom, G., Hemström, K & Riise, J. (2021) The challenge of conflicting rationalities about urban development: experiences from Mistra Urban Futures' transdisciplinary urban research. Trialog 137 Vol 2/2019, March 2021.

Picture: street art in Cape Town by Fz-29 (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Disqus Comments